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NHS – Happy Birthday, I Love You

Yesterday saw the 70th anniversary of the day the National Health Service was born, and it really was born, kicking, screaming, gasping for air and full of potential.  It was not a popular idea and the Labour government of the time had to fight very hard to realise the dream of a healthcare service free for all to use.  From its conception and throughout its hopefully immortal lifetime the NHS has been a focal point of discussion, derision, hope and fear, and there are very few people in the UK who have not been in contact with the NHS at some point in their lives.

NHS leaflet 1948 - front page

First page of the leaflet introducing the new service to the country; July 1948

The NHS is, for me, the pinnacle of what social care can be.  “From Cradle To Grave” as the initial leaflets informing people about the new service for all would state, we are now gifted with healthcare to protect and preserve us all.  If we have a serious illness or life-changing accident we know we can receive treatment and rehabilitation without forcing our families (if we are lucky enough to have support) into potential poverty.  If we have chronic conditions, we are not forced into paying sky-high insurance premiums if we are lucky enough to find insurance that will cover us, or having to make a serious decision as to whether our life is worth saving as opposed to the futures of our families or even our children, as insurance-based healthcare systems make their poorer citizens do.

It is a flawed institution, of course it is.  Almost from inception it has been underfunded, and there is always debate about how funding is organised, the postcode lottery of services offered to people, whether there is too much middle-management or not (spoiler: yes), what treatments should or shouldn’t be covered (homeopathy, I’m looking at you), but all systems are open to critique and that does not mean we should dismantle them.

Without the NHS I would be dead.  From birth, when my twin and I stayed slightly longer than normal in hospital partly because we were slightly jaundiced, partly because hospitals were nervous about multiple births at the time, and partly because we were a little bit early (again, because we were twins), I have been looked after by the NHS.

  • Aged 12 – I was diagnosed with epilepsy; I am on medication for this for my lifetime. Without the NHS I could not afford to pay for this medication.  My seizures would have continued, possibly worsened, they would have continued to come on without warning, and I would therefore have been in life-threatening situations every single time I fitted.
  • Aged 25 – diagnosed with clinical depression; I’ve been on medication twice now for this condition, and sought counselling twice. Mental health is an area in dire need of funding.
  • Aged 31 – diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis which has since spread into my shoulders, neck, hips and is radiating outwards. I am on lifelong pain medication for this.
  • Aged 42 (just) – diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and am on the Watch & Wait protocol until treatment through chemotherapy is indicated. This is a complicated one, I do have cancer but it is known as one you live with rather than die from, although as I am 30 years younger than the average age for a diagnosed patient, it’s a bit up-in-the-air with regard to future prognosis; thusly the term ‘watch and wait’.

(I also have PCOS, sciatica and recurring Jessner’s Lymphocytic Infiltrate, but I consider those to have less of an effect on me that the conditions listed above)

I also received free dental treatment throughout my childhood which was lucky as I needed to wear different forms of braces from the age of 12 until they were removed shortly before I was 18.  Even now, the fee is minimal for a regular check-up, although having any fee for dental check-ups does mean many can no longer afford to go once they are past the age of minority.

The NHS has saved my life repeatedly, mentally and physically, and I am very deeply grateful for its existence and its continuation.

The NHS is in crisis in its 70th year; funding is desperately short and we are facing a loss of staffing as a result of Brexit even as we have a shortage of 100,000 medical personnel.  We need to fight harder than ever before to preserve the institution; imperfect, cumbersome and confusing as it may be, it is ours and it is an achievement admired worldwide.  “A Little Help From My Friends” is being released today, Friday 6th July 2018, for download to help raise funds, and can be found by clicking on this link here and downloaded by clicking here.

nhs-nye-bevan

I will leave you with this, the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir performing “A Bridge Over You” (a Simon & Garfunkel and Coldplay mash-up) which still makes me cry tears of pride, joy and happiness.  The male soloist was my Emergency Doctor five years ago and this is MY hospital; you will be glad to know this single got to number 1 for Christmas 2015 charts after a massive campaign to get it there.

Whatever its problems, I very much wish a Happy Birthday to my beloved NHS, and will always raise a glass to many, many birthdays to come.

I love you, NHS.

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From The Outside In

Or, A Discussion/Debate is a Difficult Thing to Have!

I’m sure all two of my readers will be utterly shocked to read that I have been cogitating the concept of discussion and debate lately.  It comes from the many discussions/debates I become involved in in real life as well as on social media (and social media can be a great tool for opening one’s mind and challenging one’s ideology, if one has been trained in and/or understands the difference between verifiable fact and opinion-based truth).

Houses of Parliament commons debating chamber

The UK House of Commons ‘debating’ chamber AKA how not to discuss or debate.  If you’ve ever seen Prime Ministers Questions it’s like a bunch of toddlers shouting over each other –they should all be in time-out!

I’ve banged on about context before and for me context is the fundamental basis upon which any discussion about a point which is being made is based, and context can change depending upon the circumstances from which we are basing our opinion and stating our personal truth.

Opinion is not equal, nor should all opinion be given equal time or weight in discussion.  The most obvious example of this is the debate on climate change, when 97%* (or more) of scientific opinion is clear that human action has had and continues to have a detrimental effect on the environment.  Political opinion is more varied and this can be seen in the policy governments make on climate change and steps that can be taken and are taken by such governments.

Scientific opinion is independently verifiable, factually based and empirically tested.  Political opinion is based on the most popular current democratic (to a given value) elected government and is not always independently verifiable through quantifiable and qualitative study.  This is why governments can make what may seem to many people as the planetary suicidal decision to ignore climate change science because of economic policy driven by unregulated capitalist ideology (for one such example) [coughUSATrumpcough**].

Similar thought processes on a much more micro level can show up in discussions on social factors such as sexist language, racist actions, the expression of transphobia etc.  I’m not only talking about opposing viewpoints but also about views which we may know are similar to our own but which are expressed in opposition.

For example, my basis of knowledge is academic and life-learning, as well as experienced as a white, cisgender, disabled (though not always visibly), mental-health challenged, sociology graduate (in race, gender and sexuality as topics of specific study), university-educated, UK(London)-based woman working in the legal profession.  There is a whole raft of privilege and oppression going on in there, all of which influences not only what I think but how I think and how I express what I think.

Others have entirely different experiences.  Some may come from a linguistic background and for them it is the etymological basis of words which drives the meaning of a post (and that can change the personal inferred-context of a discussion quite dramatically), for others it is what they have learned from newspapers and the bias contained therein which colours the way in which they understand debating issues, for more it is where they live and the society they are surrounded by which is the core of their belief system; generally it is a combination of many factors.

I try to think from the outside in as opposed to the inside out, and that is what drives my discussion, my research and my understanding.  I try to analyse the context of a post in a holistic way – what does it actually say, who may be reading it, what language is used and what it the sociological environment in which it is created?  I try to remove myself but of course that is not possible, I am the culmination of my experiences, knowledge and understanding.  It is possible to address those privileges and oppressions and see how they may be affecting my reading of a post however.

The best way I can see to do this is to remove myself and subtract the privilege I have and the oppression I see, to try and understand what is being stated.  Each statement made also has its own context – it’s really complicated, this debating thing, and something that can only be streamlined and developed with practice.

Sometimes what a point is saying is more important that the linguistic arguments one may raise about the way the point is worded because social context trumps linguistic context; what we may know to be true about an etymological point may not be understood by the majority of the people to whom the post is addressed.  Conversely the alternative may be true, if it is a point being made in a linguistically-based discussion, then the linguistic context trumps the social context.

At a more basic level, the voice of the oppressed should be given more weight that the voice of those who are identified with the oppressor when giving testimonials.  The verifiable study which has been and can be empirically reviewed and repeated should be given more weight that that of someone who has read a couple of newspaper editorial opinions on the subject.  That does not mean the one who has only read a couple of newspapers is wrong, at least not all of the time, but it does mean the foundation from which the opinion has been formed is not as solid.

For me, it is extremely important to take into account who may be reading/hearing the discussion and to assume a level of knowledge which is minimal.  This blog originally referenced debates only and now it’s now about both debates and discussions.  That changes the context and is more pertinent to the point I’m hoping and trying to make.

When engaging in discussion I try to have a broader understanding of the social context through which the discussion points may be inferred; it may not be about you!  Of course, social media and the internet is world-wide, but in that case, try and state the context from which the post is made if you are making it, or implied, if sharing it, and then work from that.

It is the reader/listener’s responsibility as much as it is that of the person who is making the point to ensure communication is a two-way street.

 

*https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

** https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/au-revoir-trump-exits-the-paris-climate-accord

 

Time Banking: Time Well Spent

Sooterkin™ and I recently enjoyed a fabulous meal for my birthday/our decadaversary (10 years legally spliced, good grief!) at a local restaurant called Parlez, courtesy of a prize I won in a raffle at the Rushey Green Timebank (RGTB).

RGTB logoI have blogged about my time-banking before and am shocked to realise I’ve been involved for over seven years now.  Seriously, where does time go?  Is it under the bed?  Do I sleep for days without realising (certainly doesn’t feel like it)? WHAT WEIRD MAGICKS IS THIS?!  (Also, you will note that I am a big fan of the pun and the alliteration and make no apology for this – I have little wit enough to deny myself those pleasures).

I do not believe I have mentioned the involvement of Lewisham Local in the time-banking project before, as if you needed further incentive to get involved in the time-banking scheme, local resident readers of this blog.  Other time-banking groups do exist so please have a google (or other search engine of choice) and sign up.

Lewisham Local logoLewisham Local is a charity which supports the residents of and visitors to Lewisham Borough in whatever way they are able through connecting potential volunteers with charities matching their abilities, and through supporting local businesses who give discounts to volunteers and gain loyal customers as a result (3,000 business involved at last count).  Parlez is one such business, and it is my involvement in the RGTB that enabled me to support my local restaurant and enjoy a fabulous date with my darling (I did warn you about alliteration).

There is a warm feeling of satisfaction and self-worth that comes from volunteering.  I offer my legal skills in advising those who can’t afford to have a professional Will drawn up or to consult a solicitor in dealing with the estate of a newly-departed loved one.  RGTB is very careful not to tread on the earning toes of professionals, however, and I cannot draft actual Wills, but can check those already drafted and advise on wording and the impact of what their expressed wishes may be.  My firm offers 50% discounts to those who decide they do wish to employ me, but few do and nor would I expect them to.  This is a very poor borough and I want to do my bit to make sure that those who cannot afford it still have the legal protection and advice available to them; I’m very happy to say my firm supports me in this.

There are so many other volunteering skills that can be offered though.  That’s the beauty of Time Bank.  You may not think you have anything to offer; I didn’t, but my Wills service is one of the more popular services offered on our open days (I am told, I still find it a bit hard to believe).  There are people who offer bike repairs and lessons in how to repair, computer and IT skills, sewing lessons and offers to mend clothing (I have taken advantage of this), there is the Wildcat Wilderness Garden in Catford which has volunteering days and offers myriad opportunities to the local community at open days and for school visits, there are people who volunteer to change lightbulbs and put up shelves, there are those who help tidy the houses of the elderly and immobile, there are volunteer gardeners who will tidy and teach how to tidy yourself, people who will drive others to hospital or doctor’s appointments and accompany them if need be, even something like volunteering to read to a person who is homebound or simply spend time with them; you name it, there will be a voluntary position available for you to do it.  If you think you have nothing to offer, I can tell you right now you are wrong.

It is a simple exchange of time.  You spend an hour volunteering and you receive an hour of help.

For me, though, it is so much more than that.  It is a chance to support my local community, to know the people and mix with those who I may never get to meet otherwise.  Oh, the conversations I have had with elderly members of our community – the naughty minxes!  It is a chance to give and to learn how to receive.  It helps me move past the prejudices of society to become a productive member in ways that are not simply listed in an accounts ledger.

RGTB-me

Me, volunteering at RGTB.

I feel valued and valuable to my community and I know that every single member of RGTB feels the same way.  Not better than anyone else, nor worse, but as valuable as any other human being is.  We are all simply members of our local community who want to give and may need to receive and are happy to use our time in this way.  It doesn’t matter the level of our ability, there is something that we can offer, including allowing others to help us!

Please consider joining a similar organisation in your area.  If there isn’t one, why not start one?  Time is one thing that we all have an equal amount of to spend, and none of us know when that particular account may run out of funds so why not get onto spending it now?  You won’t be sorry.  I promise!

No-one Wins at the Oppression Olympics

A very well-respected, knowledgeable and erudite friend of mine who I shall call “Cabrita” (which will amuse them) posted a question on Facebook: “True or False: POC are treated horrifically in many countries; women are treated horrifically in all countries”.
My response was that I “lean towards True, adding – Disabled people are treated horrifically in all countries, non-heterosexual people are treated horrifically in all countries.  However, I would say that white women are not treated as horrifically as women of colour; I believe oppression is intersectional (as is life!) and access to money reduces the horror of the way one is treated, if one is defining horror on a sliding scale of physical/emotional oppression.  Oh lawks, there may be a blog in this…”

Well, they can’t say they weren’t warned!

The separation of identities into categories of oppression is very useful in creating public policy and law to deal with discrimination and bigotry, but it is not reflective of the human experience.  Cabrita is excellent at inspiring discussion, and this is the very heart of what the Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez, who identifies as a Chicana Feminist and is a founder of the Institute for Multiracial Justice, coined as ‘Oppression Olympics’.

It is necessary to have statistically verifiable data in order to create public policy and clarify campaign strategies.  However these statistics should not be used out of context.  They need to be applied to the real world and people’s testimonies are vital to a true understanding of the systemically racist, sexist/misogynistic, ableist, heteronormative, homophobic, transphobic, class/economic status-ridden society we live in.

Whenever comparative oppressed identities are brought up any discussion is derailed.  Voices of the oppressed are silenced by more privileged voices of the oppressed.  In such discussions you will often find that it is when someone brings up how, for example, the life of a black woman in the UK is harder than that of a white woman, the white woman will become defensive and accuse the black woman of derailing the conversation when in fact to deny the validity of the intersectional identities is a bigoted act in itself.

Yes, it is possible, and in fact is very likely, that someone who is oppressed in one way will be privileged in another.  I’ve written about privilege before, and this video is a very handy visual tool to explain it.

An inversion of the ideal of Oppression Olympics to Privilege Pedestals (I like the alliteration) would put the onus on those who hold privileges to address that privilege rather than those who are oppressed to continually fight for their right to be respected and accorded opportunities without facing bigotry.  Reverse the video and the ones in front are on the taller pedestals, better able to reach the healthiest fruit at the top of the tree, as opposed to those at the back who are relying on fallen rotten fruit on the ground.

It’s long past time those with privileges stopped expecting those who are discriminated against to do the heavy lifting.  It’s true that in any society no social advancement has ever been made without violent uprising, however much we may wish to whitewash (word deliberately chosen) such histories into the belief it was quiet polite protest that worked.  Check out the suffrage movement in the UK or the Civil Rights movement in the USA, for two examples.  The violence was (and continues to be) perpetrated against those who are discriminated against, yet somehow such violence becomes unacceptable when perpetrated in self-defence by the oppressed.

Check your privilege

Add to and/or remove from this card whichever privileges are relevant to your society; I’m in the UK, and write from my experience in this country.

Across the world in myriad ways discriminations are perpetuated; they vary according to society, but there is a commonality of experience which would show that there are root causes, such as religion doctrine or unregulated capitalism, which rely on oppression to keep a society unequal in opportunity and therefore malleable and easy to mould.  Women in Saudia Arabia being excluded from driving, girls in various cultures (Christian and Muslim) being subjected to FGM across the globe, disabled people in the UK being forced into proving their conditions again and again simply to be afforded the small allowance the welfare system now allows them, non-gender conforming people and non-heterosexual people being outlawed and murdered by both the state and the people in their countries such as Russia, Iraq and Iran, with a seeming impunity, people of colour in the US unable to trust their own police force for fear of being murdered at the hands of those supposed to protect them, and so on.  It’s all horrific.

When we talk of Oppression Olympics or a hierarchy of discrimination, we move the debate from dealing with the bigotry to an attempt to determine who is suffering more.  We become separated and pitted against one another, and this only serves to benefit the privilege and keep those privileges in place.

Flip the script.  Talk of Privilege Pedestals.  See how high you actually are, and recognise others may be higher, but many will be lower.  Until we are all on even ground, it is up to the privileged to do the heavy lifting and step in front of those who are being assaulted by discrimination.  Stop expecting the oppressed to do the hard work.  Stop dividing and allowing the hegemony to conquer.  Use your privilege for positive change, wherever you may be.

No-one Wins at the Oppression Olympics

Trust Me, I’m A Patient

I have recently attempted to switch from my prescription painkillers to using CBD oil for my chronic pain, which is caused by a combination of three of my chronic conditions, being osteoarthritis, sciatica and CLL.  I have no idea which causes the most pain at any one time, because they combine and cannot be separated.

No More SpoonsThe experiment was a failure; I only managed 10 full days without painkillers using CBD oil, and by the tenth morning was in such pain I attempted to knock myself out on a wall and my beloved Sooterkin™ insisted on dosing me with conventional painkillers simply so I could lie down and rest (and stop him and our cat Millie worrying about me.  What? She does worry, she’s a very clever cat!).

Now, a couple of weeks ago I’d decided never to put any status messages or public posts about my health on Facebook again, because all that happened was that lovely, well-meaning people would give unsolicited advice and question decisions I’d made which I appreciated for the sentiment and care behind them, but which meant my health decisions were not being trusted.

I have lived with one of my chronic conditions for 35 years.  I have developed others over the years as detailed in my CLL blog post and I have written about how I have learned over the years to balance my lifestyle so that I can work and have a tiny social life whilst living with the pain.  It’s not easy, it takes constant practice and working at all the time.  There is no-one that knows my body and its limits like I do, not even the medical professionals I see on a regular basis.  It’s difficult, because at the moment I have almost no social life; I have to prioritise work and at the moment that means the weekend is for recovery and weeknights are almost always out too (I can manage a Monday or Tuesday, occasionally a Wednesday, but that’s it).  I’ve had to give up learning British Sign Language, because the class was on Wednesday, give up my Tai Chi, because the class was on a Thursday and 1 ½ hours long and stopped helping and started hurting due to my conditions degenerating further, I’ve stopped ever going out on a Friday, which appears to be the night when most social engagements are arranged as people find it easy to go from work to wherever … well, you get the point.

I never make a decision about my health without fully thinking through every aspect because that is what I have learned to do.  Anyone with chronic conditions will do the same thing.

My life is shaped by my chronic conditions.  Everything exists through the prism of the seven I have.  Yet I cannot post status updates without having my decisions questioned, or advice proffered, or people stating their worry or their fears or even questioning my perceived ‘negativity’ simply by mentioning my pain.

Think about that.  Basically, what is being said is that my life is a negative.  That by posting about my life I am being inherently negative.

That is the privilege of living without chronic conditions, without disability.  My pain is neither negative nor positive, it is a very big part of me and my life.  If I should comment about it, I am simply making a statement about an aspect of my life, in the same way as I may comment about my family or my cat, a picture of whom I am putting here because she’s cute and it will lift this post.

Millie up close

Seriously, that snoofly lickle face would cheer up anyone!

I would love to post about my life fully, in the knowledge that people would not feel obliged or inspired or the need to give advice.  Sympathy and empathy is fine, and I love those who have both and hope I can give as much as I receive.  However, unless advice is specifically asked for I, for one, do not wish to receive it.  It may be that others do, although the conversations I have had with other people who have chronic pain conditions would indicate that they get as frustrated as I do with unsolicited advice (although that is definitely better than receiving unsolicited dick pics, but I digress).

The basic rule should be that unless advice is asked for, don’t give it.  I guarantee you that anyone living with a chronic condition knows more about their own body and their condition(s) that you could possibly know, and that they will have discussed, considered and questioned whatever it is you are about to suggest with many people, most of whom will be medical professionals.  Quite often they will know more than the medical professional if not a specialist in that particular field.  Please do consider what it is you are about to say, before you say it.

This post is aimed at myself too; I have offered advice and sought reasons for triggerings of chronic pain in others as well.  It is ingrained in us to do so, but is unhelpful for chronic conditions.  There usually is no specific trigger, chronic conditions just are.

Oh, and if you intend to post something to me from David Wolfe, or any other ‘alternative’ health site which criticises ‘big pharma’ or the ‘medical industrial complex’ using discredited information (misinformed anti-vaxxers, I’m looking at you) and/or evidence which simply cannot be proven or backed-up, just don’t.  I am perfectly aware of such sites.  If it is not scientifically, empirically valid, I’m not interested.

Farewell to a Friendship

separating hands

Three times in my adult life I have made the painful, difficult decision to end a long term close (I had thought) friendship.  There is fault on both sides, but particularly with regard to the last one which came to a head last year, it reached the point where I came to realise not only had it been toxic for some time for me but that I was a toxic presence in my former friend’s (hereafter FF) life.  It was thanks to the information received from mutual friends that I realised the toxicity was reciprocated.

I had tried very hard to try speak about the problems with my FF, to come to a solution, only to be blocked in every attempt.  Texts were stopped, pages were blocked, conversations started by both of us were ended by my FF sometimes mid-flow.  I am sure my FF would say the same.  In every situation there is grey, and in the slow-burn ending of a previously very close friendship, there will be more grey than anything else.  I am trying not to blame, and this is a difficult process.  We are both responsible, and for the sake of my mental health, I have to accept there will be no closure, no understanding, no peaceful truce or clear cut-off.  I will never be able to be understood.

This is only the third time in my life I have made myself take a final decision, and I have been on the planet for nearly 50 years.  Even then in the latter case I only took the decision because everything came to a head as a result of a conversation with a mutual friend; it could have been a situation that went on for a far longer time to the detriment of us both.

The previous friendships ended when I realised that neither person actually knew who I was as a person, despite our long and deep conversations over many years.  Their understanding of me was based on a misconceived and false image that they had projected onto me.  I did not recognise the person they assumed I was.  I even checked this out with other friends, so confused was I by this massive misunderstanding of my character.  The situation was not fair to me and made me realise the friendship itself was not real but a fantasy.  I was ending a friendship that had already disappeared, in all three cases.

Even now, many months after stepping back from my FF, I still find myself hoping that maybe something could change, but when the lines of communication have been shut down by the other person and when that other person is triggered by my presence, my word, by their misunderstanding of me, then there is little I can do, and I do not want to cause further harm to my FF by any attempt to do so.

This decision has been years in the making, I realise now.  Neither of us know the people we have become, and to each other we are now strangers, strangers who were once non-blood siblings.

It happens, but my goodness it hurts.  More than the loss of a lover, the loss of a friend causes a grief that chokes me.  I cannot think of them without wistful mourning, without wishing to know they are well in spite of their lack of knowledge of me.

It hurts because they didn’t know me and they showed it.  I spoke my truth and shared my secrets and still they did not understand the core of my being.  That must be as much my aversion to conflict and therefore to correcting when I noticed, if I noticed.  I do place the responsibility in my corner because it was from my corner I came out to fight for myself, my identity and the reality of who I am, and in moving out from that corner I was backed into I made the decision to end the friendships.

I have no idea how they feel about me now, or even if I feature in their thoughts at all.  They still feature in mine, and most kindly now.  The hurt they caused has faded and the memories of how close we once were remain.  There was love there, once.  That is enough for me to have fondness and hopes for their future.

heart not life

I made the right decision, I know that.  The right decision is often the hardest decision, but for the sake of myself and my FFs, it is one I had to make.

If they see this, and if they recognise themselves, I hope they realise I do still carry love for them and always will.  It’s just that love is not enough, in any relationship, without truth.

Family Tree: Genealogy Is A White Privilege

Family Tree image

At this point, my tree is a forest!

I have been researching my family tree almost obsessively since I signed up to Ancestry.co.uk (other sites are available, probably) two years ago and spent 100 hours in one week having masses of fun.  It was Yulemas week off work and my beloved Sooterkin™ was playing with his PS4 (not a euphemism), so what’s a person to do…?

I have found ancestors back to beyond 500 AD on at least one line because I got lucky and hit a line of Scottish nobility which then led to Kings (I come from a lot of second sons, daughters married off and those born on the wrong side of the blanket as t’were).  Apparently those of Viking Ancestry like to trace back to Odin, so I am ‘officially’ descended from his brother/son Baldur.  I have also got a line back to William the Bastard Conqueror, and his line like to trace back to the Christian God, so I have that deity too.  Wahay, I’m doubly mythical!

This addiction was partly inspired by “Who Do You Think You Are?”, a fabulous BBC TV series which traces the roots of famous people and tells the stories of individual experience through history using this medium.  It was a programme about Noel Clarke (series 14 ep. 8), a fantastic actor/director/writer/producer, which stopped me in my tracks.

Noel Clarke is descended from people trafficked into slavery in the United States.  His line, and the line of many, many black people in the UK, United States and across the world, cannot be traced further back than that.  It ends.  This is what it means to people now; I as a white person of privilege in the UK can merrily trace my ancestry back far beyond where I thought I would, and he and so many others cannot.

Researching my family tree and seeing results is a privilege of my skin colour.  Yes, I do have a lot of very poor people in my tree, from the 1700 and 1800s onwards.  But they are recorded in parish registries, they have birth, baptism and death records, they have paper trails, they are human beings with all the individual right to exist that that entails.

DNA test results

Not even a hint of Celt from the west! Although I can trace back to Picts, so there’s that…

I also obtained my DNA history through the site, and received possibly the least surprising result ever, to me anyway.  I am so Anglo-Saxon it hurts.  I am an amalgam of immigration way back when, which confirms my ‘right’ to be and claim to be ‘English’, as I am sure many racists would be insistent upon.  To me, it confirms I am steeped in white privilege.  To others, it should mean nothing at all but it does because of racism; institutional, systemic and individual acts of racism.

Noel Clarke was eventually able to trace his roots back to Ghana, through the music and dance his ancestors on the tiny Caribbean Island of Carriacou would hold onto through the years of slavery, and after freedom was granted.  He knew the location of his ancestors before they were ripped from their lives to become little more than chattels to enrich the white western world.  I know the names of my ancestors because I was lucky enough to be born white in that rich white western world.

Researching one’s family tree and being able to obtain results is a privilege, one that I don’t think would really occur to anyone who is white.  One’s personal family history is a privilege to be able to know and that saddens me.  The effects of slavery are very long-reaching; time does not lessen the impact, just hides it from plain view.

An Atheist’s Appreciation of Christians

As a friend/family member emotionally blackmailed into reading loyal and avid reader of my blog, you will know that I am an atheist.  I have not always been an atheist; from the age of four until I was 16 I attended a Methodist church near my home every Sunday, and from 16 until I reached 18 I went to an Evangelical church based in various school halls and community centres in my home town.  I taught 4-6 year olds in Sunday school from aged 12 to 16; however even at that age I wasn’t keen on indoctrinating children so used to tell the stories as fantasy tales, and get into the arts and crafts-ing with them rather than push ‘god’ onto them.

I was a nascent activist from around the age of 8, enthusiastically joining in whatever Save the Seals/Elephants/Tigers etc. project Blue Peter was doing at the time, and can remember early political awakenings at age 6 and 9 when in Saudi Arabia* and Trinidad** respectively.

I lost my Christian faith quite early on.  I have yet to lose my love of (the vast majority of) Christians.

It was whilst watching Miriam Margoyles’ final episode of her BBC1 documentary Miriam’s Big American Adventure, in which she tried to understand the USA that elected Donald Trump, that I was reminded of my love of those who are Christians with a small ‘c’.  She met a family who subscribe to the ‘quiverfull’ branch of the Christian faith, a particularly patriarchal and strict denomination of evangelism.  They believe in creationism, and believe it is more valid as a theory of human evolution that, well, evolution.  They believe that it is a human duty to produce as many children as possible, as an ‘army for God’.  They believe that the man, the husband, the father, is the person who is dominant and that the wife should submit in all decisions.

This does not mean that the wife should not get a say and that there is no discussion, and whilst it is seen as a wife’s duty to submit to her husband sexually, this does not mean that she does not have the ability to say no.  It is more that she should not want to, but still can.

Whilst I have many problems personally with this ideology (and that is for another blog), if it is a lifestyle that is freely and openly chosen (based upon informed educated choice) by all the participants then as far as I am concerned, go for it.

The family on the documentary stated they encouraged their children to question (whilst being home-schooled and restricted in their access to information, so there is a problem with informed choice already) and would not reject or stop loving their children if they rejected Christianity, or were lesbian/gay (whilst still believing it is a sin).  Most of all, the sadness they feel at those of us who are not Christian is not that of someone trying to convert others to Christianity, but the sadness of someone who believes wholeheartedly in goodness and empathy, in caring for the community, and that they found their path to this goodness and empathy through their Christian faith.

They believe their goodness and charity comes from their faith.

I believe it comes from their morality, which although formed through their faith is actually representative of them as people.  I believe morality comes through empathy and understanding, and that whilst the Christian believes it is reached externally, I believe it comes from within.

I have no idea if this family is a fair representation of Quiverfull religious people, and have a feeling from my research that it may not be.  There is a disproportionately high number of incidents reported of abuse and oppression in such families (have a google and prepare to be shocked and disgusted).

However, what this particular family and Ms Margolyes reaction to them reminded me of was how lovely, how caring, how giving and how wonderful Christian-identifying people can be.

The reason I stayed at Church far beyond the period in which I believed was because of the people.  Because of the love and joy I was surrounded by, the idealism of caring and sharing and lifting people up.  Mine were inclusive churches; I had a female vicar at the Methodist Church, and at least one gay locum vicar (if that’s the word!) during my time there.  The “happy clappies” as I know them were a hugely mixed variety of people brought together by their love of God and Christ, but also (and in the main) by their love of humanity.

They practised what was preached.  They did not judge, they did not presume, they used their love of Christ to be the example to them of how they would wish to act.  I continue to be extremely fond of my time at the Church and of the people I met there and still miss them in many ways.

However, I stopped going to Church because I stopped believing and because I cannot get past the inherently patriarchal system of organised religion, and because I simply don’t believe in any form of deity.  I felt to continue attending would be hypocritical of me and I would be deceiving those at the Church whose faith was honest and true, and I cared for them enough not to wish to be deceitful.

Christianity (and, indeed, any religion but Christianity is the one I have experience within) can be such a force for good.  It can be the impetus for truly loving behaviour.  It should be.  There is bad in every religion, people who exploit faith for their own gain, who desire power over their fellow humans.  That is a problem for all faiths in extremism.  The further into extremism one gets, the less true to the faith a person appears to be.

As an Atheist I have a deep love and respect for the Christians I know and I know they have a deep love and respect for me, too.  We are all humans, and ultimately that love and respect is the lesson Christ intended, whether you believe he was the son of God or simply that the man who existed to be known as Jesus Christ was a very loving, caring teacher and leader.

Group hug!

* Saudi Arabia – when I was 6 I stayed with my parents in Saudi; I was entranced by the heavy coat wearing locals when I was in shorts and a vest top.  My most enduring memory, however, is of a girl who must have been about 12, hugging a younger boy, who I remember seemed to be my own age, to her as she held her hand out to passers-by to beg for money.  She had several fingers missing or foreshortened.  She was dirty, ragged and thin.  I saw myself in her, and remember vividly the shock and sadness I felt at her situation.  It made such an impression that it remains with me still; when I close my eyes, I still see her.

** Trinidad – aged 9 and staying with my beloved Aunty B and her family, as her husband was working out there for a contractors firm.  She employed a domestic servant.  I cannot remember who was driving the car, but I was taken to visit her home, and her children.  I remember the concrete platform on which a large one-room concrete building with corrugated roof rested; the goats tethered nearby and the children sitting around as it was early evening.  The mountains behind the hut were pointed out, and I was told the children walked over this, for over two hours a day, to get to school.  It left a deep and lasting impact and I know is a foundation stone in forming the person I am today.

Whitesplaining: Sit Down and Shut Up

Last night I was inspired to write a blog, a ranty, angry blog, about whitesplaining, by a thread on the facebook feed of a friend who I admire greatly.  “What is that?” I hear my loyal yet surprisingly unaware reader cry.  Then, logging on this morning I saw that the white supremacist POTUS Donald Trump had given his State of the Union address (in short, not the best state it’s been in, in my opinion) in which he stated that the rates of unemployment for Black people in the United States had dropped to an all-time low and that he was taking credit for this.

The faces of the Congressional Black Caucus, who attended according to CBC Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to “stare racism in the face”, say it all.  Watching as the least popular president in historical record takes credit for the hard work and achievements of the previous POTUS, Barack Obama; watching as Trump does not even acknowledge his 1 point drop is riding on the coattails of the 9 point drop in unemployment Obama’s government earned.  Not a clap, not a smile, not a nod of approval or acknowledgement of Trump’s words, as he whitesplains at, and erases history all over, the attendees.

CBC listening to Trump Jan 2018

My friend made a post specifically asking people of colour to respond to her query, which was about the Me Too movement and whether they felt included or excluded from what has been happening in recent months.

Simple query, specific in direction, and a fabulous opportunity to learn from people as they comment and provide teachable moments, I thought.  I’m white, I have no business commenting on anything in that thread as I don’t have the experience, knowledge, understanding or comprehension of the experiences of people of colour as I am white and have benefited from white privilege all my life, I thought.  The first step in learning is to sit down, shut up, open my ears and mind and listen, I thought.  Even if I have specific knowledge, it is still not my place to speak as I respect my friend and her request (as I would in any discussion in which I have the privilege which is being discussed) and want to learn, I thought.

I watched and read and marvelled in horror at some of the comments that were made.  White women giving their opinions and stating the comments, thoughts and experiences of people of colour in the thread were wrong because…. Well, it doesn’t matter what the reasoning was, it was whitesplaining.  Just because you may have friends, family, loved ones or children who are defined as and seen as ‘of colour’ does not mean you, or I, or anyone as a white person can speak on behalf of the lives, the testimonies, of people of colour.

The sheer arrogance and effrontery that my friend was confronted with, from people she had known, it seems, for a very long time, was boggling to my mind.  They didn’t listen; they took offence at being called out, they blocked the discussion, they spat their opinions and shut the conversation down.  They allowed for no rebuttal.  It is my white privilege that I don’t have this talking over of my racial experience, because mine is the dominant one.  My experience is the default racial experience.  It is the experience society assumes we all have and we most definitely don’t.

Whitesplaining is an empowering term which is used to minimise the very real damage that is done by white people seeking to insert themselves into a conversation, an experience and an understanding that we simply do not have.

Would a GP perform surgery?  Would a historian teach mathematics?  Would a musician be appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer? If polymaths, perhaps, but in general terms no.  Even if you have related expertise such as intersectional experiences of oppression (in my case, disability and gender) that does not mean you are in any way qualified to talk about the experiences you have no expertise in or knowledge of.

Worse than that, by talking over, around and through the voices you should be listening to, you are missing the opportunity to really learn.  You are stomping on the fertile ground of growth.  You are whitesplaining society into a position of continued oppression and white supremacy.

Don’t be that person.  Sit down, shut up and be thankful that anyone who has spent their lifetimes being oppressed by people who look just like you is willing to try and help you out of the bigotry you and society are in.

No-one owes us white people a lesson, we have no right to expect to be treated with calmness, care and respect when you consider that oppression kills our brothers and sisters who do not have the same white skin as us.  If you cannot understand the anger that exists in the hearts of the oppressed, you really haven’t been paying attention, and yet still we are provided with myriad opportunities to learn.

And yet still we whitesplain all over them.  Friends, family, people we care about, we whitesplain their lives.  If it makes me livid, me as a white woman whose privilege means I can ignore such rudeness if I choose, I can only imagine how angry it makes those who are being silenced.

Sit down.  Shut up.  If in doubt about your conduct in any way, sit down, shut up and learn.

how-to-be-an-ally

Musings on Death

It is seismic in effect.  Death reshapes the world in which we live; the loss of someone alters irrevocably the landscape we navigate.

No matter how little we knew the person, their loss is a shaking of our world, a removal from the interactions we have day to day.  The nearer we were to them, the closer we held them in our hearts, the larger the earthquake and more visceral the twisting of our environment.

Even the most distant of deaths, the passing of famous people who we have never met but whose work has touched us to our core, or of brief acquaintances who we passed as ships in the night, will affect our lives, our landscape, our emotional environment.

A person who was kind to us in a moment, whose passing we learn of in passing, may shake us and we do not know why.  It is their action we mourn, the loss of a person whose influence was positive, who taught us a way of being we wish to emulate.

The dying of the light that had however briefly illuminated our path will remap our personal sphere.

It is for that we mourn.  For the effect the lack of their presence in the world has on us and on those we love who mourn with us although they may not know it; the lack of those departed that makes the world a dimmer place.

We feel guilt with the grief; guilt that we mourn and we feel we have no right to.  We did not know them, we were not loved by them and our grief is inappropriate, intrusive, unnecessary.

But we do have a right to.  We have a right to feel, to grieve, to lament their loss.

Grief is always personal. It may surprise us when it comes, it may be a reflection of other grief unspent, it may be a bemoaning of specific loss, but whatever it is, it is okay.  It is not inappropriate, it is not wrong.

It is merely ours, and it is borne of love, and love, unconditional and unrequited as it may be, is never wrong.

I love, and I will grieve, and I will hurt, and I will mourn and remember.  I will light a candle in my heart and raise a glass at the wake, which may be held only by me.

And I will accept myself in that grief as humane.  I will allow that grief is love.

It is my gift, to myself, to permit my feelings their pathway.

And I will grow from it.

I will love.

I will grieve.

And I will love again.

Candle